Did You Know That Writing Books Is Hard?

“HEY, CHUCK, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?” you might ask me, out loud, in all caps for some reason. And I would say, “Well, fellow human, human fellow, I’ve been digging deep into the word mines, deeper than I’ve ever gone before, lost in the dark, following a rich and mysterious vein of story ore to its conclusion.” And you might say, still in all caps, “I DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS,” and there I’d roll my eyes, and I’d sigh, and I’d answer more accurately, “I’ve been editing a really big book, and it was hard.”

Because writing books, and editing books, and re-writing books, and re-re-writing books, is hard. It’s curious that I haven’t found it gets any easier. In fact, it’s maybe gotten harder? On the one hand, that makes me feel like a dipshit, because if writing is getting harder, it seems to suggest I’m somehow getting worse. But the reality, I suspect — and I hope — is that it’s because as I write more books, as I get older, I’m reaching out and writing bigger, sprawlier, stranger things. Things that are attempting to reckon with larger, crunchier ideas while still also ideally being first and foremost a damn entertaining read.

The book in question is The Book of Accidents, which as noted is a book I haven’t figured out how to talk about yet. (And reminder: you do need to learn how to talk about your book, meaning, figuring out what the story is, and what the story about the story is.) It’s about a family: a boy who can see other people’s pain, a mother whose artwork begins to come alive, and a father who has begun to see his own dead, abusive father in strange places. But that’s just the start of it. There’s a serial killer. And a bad friend. And cycles of abuse, and anxiety, and radicalization, and a demon in a coal mine, and — well, I don’t want to spoil too much.

My edits on this book were somewhat profound. I don’t know that it’s the most work I’ve done editing a book — that might fall to Under the Empyrean Sky — but the first draft of this book definitely nailed the structure, while not the particulars. And so much of what I’d written — and what was off about what I’d written — was like well-marbled fat. I couldn’t just cut off a cancerous limb and be like THERE I FUCKING FIXED IT. I had to go in with tweezers and pluck and pull and layer in new threads of meat. I cut maybe a third of the draft and rewrote probably the same.

I think it worked. I’m at least temporarily happy with it.

And credit goes to my editor, Tricia Narwani, who is so very good at seeing what a story is trying to do while also identifying those places where it’s failing to earn that promise. (Give her all the awards. All of them. If she’s not nominated for a Hugo next year, I’ll kick and spit.)

Whatever the case, with this book and with Wanderers, it has been proven resoundingly that I don’t know what I’m doing, and I’m actually quite happy about that. It makes each book its own peculiar journey, and it also releases me from a certain kind of pressure. If I enter every book feeling like I need to have everything locked down, if it needs to be a well-trod path, it’ll be frustrating. There’s a level of performance anxiety there. But if every book is a portal into a whole new place with all new rules, I can be forgiven for having to stumble around blindly for a while.

(It’s amazing the things to do inside our minds to make this process feel better, to absolve ourselves of certain stresses and sins. We do what we must because we can, as GlaDOS said. Also, but there’s no sense crying over every mistake, you just keep on trying till you run out of cake.)

So, that’s where I’ve been. Deep in the word mines. (Plus I had some other personal life things going on, from good to bad. I might talk more about those later, when we know more of what’s up.)

I’ll be back on Monday to pop up some photos, talk Wanderers, and all that good stuff. And I might have a book sale, soon, too, as my comp copy pile is getting a little too goddamn heavy.

Have a good weekend, frandos.


14 responses to “Did You Know That Writing Books Is Hard?”

  1. “And writing—good writing—does not get easier and easier with practice. It gets harder and harder—so that eventually the writer must stall out into silence.” – Samuel R. Delaney

    I don’t think I believe that last part, but the more you learn about writing, the harder it is to make your own writing live up to what you know you should be able to do.

    Keep mining for those stories, sir.

    • Make corrections, it will make the writing better––so you think. Give the text to friends, your mother… your neighbors to read. They love your story, great. The truth it’s garbage says my editor… in a diplomatic way, but the same meaning. After a thorough review of the mnuscript, I have to agree with her. Back to square one.

  2. Talking about our own books SUCKS!!! I’d rather do the mind-numbing editorial tweezer-thingy rather than TALK about my book.
    Mind you, that’s not geeking out about the story to friends and betas who Understand. No. That’s talking “intelligently” about the manuscript to the people-who-matter-the-most-but-shouldn’t: editors & agents, publishers. The People Who Pay. *sigh*
    We hates it, Precious.
    I feel you, Chuck! I think you have it right: it seems to get harder each time because we’re striving to do & be more, pushing ourselves in literary directions we didn’t know existed the first (dozen) times. Its a good thing, but, man, it sucks in the trenches.
    I look forward to seeing this newest creation when it’s finally out of surgery & recovery. Your tantalyzing hints have me all aflutter!

    • Yeah, talking about your own book… Whadda ya say: It’s the book the world was waiitng for. If this is the case… why did I get 136 rejections? There isn’t one smart agent out there? You tell me.

  3. Chuck, holy crap, I’m 500 pages into Wanderers and it is flipping fantastic. Whatever you’re doing keep doing it. If only these darn kids and this damn yard work weren’t standing in my way of sitting in the hammock and reading all day.

  4. All I can do is echo the praise of other readers of Wanderers. I’m 341 pp in, and I chose to bring the book on a 4000 mile journey with all other objects at a minimum, just so I could have your characters and voices traveling with me. Brilliant, prophetic, etc, etc. Thank you.

  5. Yeah…so…at my last book signing for a YA novel on which I worked a decade, a lovely woman came up to me and said, as she held my baby in her hands, “I’ve heard that writing a book now is easier than ever. All you have to do is find a cover and put it up on Amazon.”

    Want to be a fireman? All you have to do is pick up a hose. Want to be a teacher? All you have to do is stand in front of a bunch of kids. Want to be a airline attendant? All you have to do is serve drinks. Want to be an actress? All you have to do is smile at the camera. Want to be POTUS? (LOL, we won’t even go near THAT one.)

    I am so proud of you for making your work the best that it can be, and for understanding (and verbalizing) how HARD it is to write. All great things are hard. And rarely do things get “easier” with time. Keeping relationships strong. Writing music. Being a parent. Playing an instrument. Communicating with others. Working on code. Fixing a heart. All must be practiced in order to continue being great. And the more we practice, the higher we set the bar for ourselves. That is the curse (and the blessing) of loving what you do.

    Thanks for the reminder that, as a writer, I am not alone in how hard I work to bring the best stories possible to my readers. Even if they believe it is easy. : )

  6. Here from Milly Schmidt’s blog. She seems to be a fan and so I decided to see for myself.
    Yes, I am finding out first hand how hard it is. Someone who doesn’t go through the motions has no idea. Glad to hear that you were productive while being away.

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